Expressing serious concern over detection of a large number of fake anganwadi beneficiaries, Union minister Maneka Gandhi on Monday said those responsible for such irregularities are traitors and pilferage of food meant for children has caused a massive loss to the government.
The women and child development (WCD) minister made the remarks at an event where awards were conferred on 97 anganwadi workers from across the country for their exemplary work.
However, the comments did not go down well with some of those awarded, with anaganwadi workers saying it had hurt their sentiments.
Indulging in theft and pilferage of food meant for children... the anganwadis that do such things... it's 'desh droh'. You have not just put one child to disadvantage, you have caused a huge loss to the entire country, Gandhi said.
The anganwadis are a type of rural child care centre in India and helps combat malnutrition and under nutrition among children below six years.
The minister said another issue that caused her immense pain is that the anganwadis wasted a huge amount of public money over the years.
Since we started linking Aadhaar cards of beneficiaries, we have come across a large number of children who are there on the on the anganwadi list but don't really exist.The anganwadis claimed funds for children who were never there, she said.
The ministry found three lakh fake beneficiaries in Assam, one lakh in Jharkhand and 14 lakh in Uttar Pradesh, Gandhi said.
If we spend Rs 10 per child per day, that means theft of Rs 30 lakh per day in Assam and Rs 1.4 crore in UP. We could have done a lot with this money. It could have been spent on a number of different schemes... on food for many needy children," the minister said.
She asked the anganwadi workers honoured at the event to inform officials if they come across any such irregularities in anganwadi centers in their areas.
"I want one thing from you people... the best aganwadis workers in the country... Keep an eye on what others are doing. Inform us if you come across any irregularity such as theft and pilferage of food in anganwadis near you. Be the ears and eyes of the government," Gandhi said.
However, some of the awardees expressed their disappointment over the minister's remarks.
An anganwadi worker, who was at the event, said, "The minister should not have said all that. We have given our entire lives to anganwadi. I am hurt by the minister's remarks. There are no such cases in Chhattisgarh, but still... The minister should have spoken more about our efforts and work."
"The ministry counts the number of beneficiaries on the basis of Aadhaar cards. There a lot of other children who do not have Aadhaar cards. But, we are supposed to include them in the programme. We cannot leave them out just because they don't have it," another anganwadi worker awarded for her exemplary work said.
"I come from Uttar Pradesh, and I felt bad when the minister said we are stealing food," she said.
An anganwadi official from Uttar Pradesh's Lucknow said on condition of anonymity that "there is a large time gap in the surveys conducted at the state and local level."
"Children who are on the list a year ago are not there now. Hence, the discrepancies. Also, a large number of children do not have Aadhaar cards or have applied for it, but haven't received yet," the official said.